How to paint a wood and laminate chest of drawers

Welcome to the first of what I hope to be plenty of tutorials in the “make” department of my blog! In this case, I won’t so much be making something, as re-making or upcycling. For this project, I’ll be painting a chest of drawers. Do you have a piece of furniture taking up space but not having much use? Instead of donating or sending it to the landfill, why not paint it and give it a new life? You’ve got nothing to lose! Follow along – here is the process of how to paint a wood and laminate chest of drawers.

Supplies –

Below I have provided Amazon affiliate links for the items you’ll need for this project. Even though I will receive a small percentage of sales (at no cost to you) from items purchased from these links, I only recommend items I know and like.

Step 1 – Choose your item and use

I like to reuse items to keep junk out of landfills. This chest of drawers had good lines, was in decent shape, and was the perfect size for a small painting project. Also, it wasn’t an heirloom or overly pricey investment piece of furniture, so I knew that I wouldn’t be devastated if I messed up and had to repaint it. Measure your item and the space you will be using it in. Take note of the lighting in the space you’ll be using it as well. If you don’t have what you need in your basement or other room in your house, check out resale shops and see what treasures you can find. Use your imagination to picture it as the finished project. Sift through inspiration photos to get some ideas of shapes and types of furniture you like. If the piece isn’t in good condition, be sure that the repairs required are within your skillset. Once you have your piece of furniture you are ready to start.

Step 2 – Clean and repair

Closely inspect the piece of furniture. Do the drawers pull out smoothly? Are there screws that need tightening? Is the hardware in working order (if you aren’t replacing it)? Are there nicks and dents in the wood? In the case of most modern furniture, it might be a mix of solid wood and laminate, or other wood substitute. My chest of drawers was solid wood for the top and fronts of the drawers and knobs, and laminate everywhere else. Take note of the makeup of your furniture item, because it matters when choosing your paint. Clean your piece with TSP – trisodium phosphate. It’s an all-purpose cleaner in powder form, available near the paint aisle. Mix it with water per the instructions label, and wipe the furniture down. After wiping it down, fill any deep scratches in the surface of the wood with wood putty. Use a putty knife or old credit card to fill the cracks, dents, or scratches until full.

Step 3 – Choose your paint type

There are many types of paint to choose from – stain, latex, oil-based, or chalk paint are the most commonly used for paints for furniture. Chalk paint is relatively new to the local hardware store selection. It’s more expensive than the other paint options, but its appeal lies in the promise of not having to sand or prime before painting most surfaces, and it is water-based with minimal odor or fumes. This sounded very tempting to me and was what I originally thought I was going to use. However, after doing some research, I learned that to arrive at a quality finish, prep-work was inevitable. I decided to postpone my chalk paint adventures and instead try priming, using latex paint, and then sealing with a water-based polycrylic.

Step 4 – Choose your paint color & finish

I love looking at paint chips. I immediately dreamt of painting the chest a shiny lollipop shade of magenta, or a stately prussian blue, or a glossy kelly green. But, then reality hit and I know from my sewing experience that eventually I can get tired of a bright color, so I opted for a muted dove gray. It was a soothing color that would look timeless on the chest, and now I was excited. Make sure to consider the space you’ll be using it in and the lighting day and night. At very least, try taking a paint chip in the space and live with it for a couple days.

As for the finish, the color determined that for me. If I had decided to go with a bright shade of paint, and I was working with a smooth, like-new piece, I might have decided to paint it a glossy finish. Instead, though, I had chosen the muted gray which reminded me a lot of a chalk paint color. I really liked the look of chalk paint and a somewhat matte finish, so I opted for a satin finish polycrylic.

Step 5 – Sand

Before sanding, you’ll want to remove all easily removable hardware and set it aside, being sure not to lose any screws. If you filled any scratches and dents, check the wood putty to see if it has set and feels dry to the touch. Once it is dry, sand the filled areas lightly until they are flush with the wood surface. Now, you can also go ahead and give all surfaces a light sanding, using long smooth strokes. Then, wipe with a damp cloth to remove all traces of dust. To prepare for the next step, set up your piece of furniture in a well-lit, dust-free area. You’ll want to protect the surface underneath it with a drop cloth as well.

Step 6 – Prime

It’s not the sexy step, but it is the critical step. Not only does priming ensure your paint will be true to color, but priming is essential when painting on laminate or painted wood furniture it provides a consistent surface for your paint to adhere to. Without this step, your paint can and most likely will eventually chip and peel. I chose Zinsser BIN shellac-based primer because it just had the best reviews by DIYers everywhere I looked. Just know that it is a little pricey so only buy what you need, and has strong fumes, so be sure to use it in a well-ventilated area. One quart was just enough for my medium-sized chest of drawers.

Step 7 – First coat

Make sure you have enough room around your furniture to paint all its surfaces. If it has drawers, take them out and set them face up to be painted separately from the chest. Mix your paint, choose brush or roller, and apply your first coat. Start in an inconspicuous area to test your method. Save the front and top of the piece for last, once you’ve got a consistent method going. Be sure to do one light coat – don’t try to cover it completely streak-free on the first coat, or you will end up applying it too thick.

Step 8 – Dry

Allow the first coat to dry fully. Resist the urge to over-apply paint before it has fully dried. Applying paint over wet paint will result in a streaky, bumpy finish at best. Refer to the can of paint for dry times, as they vary with temperature and humidity. You can use a fan to circulate the air, but be sure to keep the area as dust and lint-free as possible. Also, warmer, drier air temperatures dry paint faster, so avoid painting outside in cold or extremely humid weather.

Step 9 – Second Coat

Once the first coat is dry to the touch, your furniture is ready for the second coat. Be sure to paint the second coat in the same manner as the first coat. I found that using a roller on the large, smooth areas and a brush on the trim and curved or detailed areas resulted in the best finish. The roller covers large areas quicker as well, just be sure to coat the roller evenly to avoid drips. Clean up any drips that do happen with light strokes of the brush.

Step 10 – Seal and Cure

Check your second coat for dryness. Assess from all angles in good lighting, and decide if you need a third coat or touch up anywhere. Once all areas are painted to your liking and dry, you can starting painting the sealcoat finish. I used Minwax Polycrylic and it was recommended that 3 coats are required. This sounded tedious at first when I really wanted to finish the project now that it was painted, but Polycrylic is very fast drying, so this was not a problem.

Also, it is suggested that you can sand lightly between coats to remove any dust or lint particles that will adhere during the drying process. I only did this with one coat, because it didn’t make a drastic difference with my light-colored paint, and I wasn’t overly concerned about achieving an heirloom-quality finish. Just allow 30 minutes between coats, and you’ll be good to go. Allow 24 hours for the last coat to cure before moving or handling your furniture.

Step 11 – Install Hardware

If you were happy with the original hardware & its finish, then all you have to do is clean and reinstall it! But if you weren’t, you have a few choices. I originally decided to replace the hardware with some glass orb knobs I found. They had nickel trim and air bubbles inside, and I thought they would look gorgeous with the soft gray paint I had chosen – but I was wrong! I couldn’t believe that once I put them on the drawer, they looked somewhat lifeless against the gray.

I decided that I loved the way they looked in the sunlight, but since the drawers were going in a place where they wouldn’t have direct sunlight shining on them, I would have to choose another option. Luckily, I had the perfect shade of matte gold spray paint and the knobs just glowed against the gray dresser in the most subtle, beautiful way.

To paint the knobs easily, I simply punched four holes with a screwdriver in a large piece of cardboard, screwed the knobs into the holes, and painted them with a few coats of the gold spraypaint, being sure to hit them from all angles. For durability, I finished them with a coat of clear polycrylic as well. It’s time to celebrate – reinstall the knobs once dried and the project is done!

4 Month Update

Four months later, this dresser and its new paint job have held up fantastically to daily use. The finish is smooth and slick, just like day one. No scratches from my cat’s claws, or anything else. The heavier items I’ve placed on top of the chest of drawers haven’t stuck or left a mark either. Overall, I’m super happy with the results of this project. I hope you can follow the steps and share in the comments your upcycled furniture adventures!

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